Further reflections from an ash can

Ilse Treurnicht (right) at Skoll World Forum 2010

So now that we’re all back on Canadian soil, our “volcation” behind us, I’d like to offer a few reflections on the Skoll World Forum held annually at Oxford and known as the “Davos of Social Entrepreneurship”.

This is one in a series of blogs reflecting on everything from the MaRS partnership with the Skoll Centre, highlights from our UK pre-meetings with key stakeholders in impact investing, social entrepreneurship education and social finance, a summary of Canada Day at Skoll, highlights from the Skoll World Forum itself and the quickly arranged yet inspiring TEDxVolcano.

Here, my highlights from the forum.

Who attended the Skoll World Forum?

It’s an invitation-only event that requires people to “apply to attend”. This means that everyone you turn to in line or in the audience has as much value to add to the session as the panelists. For example, sitting in a session you may find on one side is Annie Lennox who is working on HIV issues – on the other side is Jack Sim who runs the World Toilet Organization, which brings sanitation to developing countries, and is Singapore’s only Ashoka Fellow. Both are fascinating in their own way – both able to offer us a “new” way of thinking about our work.

For those that couldn’t get into the Forum (it sold out quickly) there was OxfordJam – a fringe event that was held in a restaurant/ pub across from the Said Business School and a great event in itself.

MaRS was pleased to partner with the Skoll World Forum this year and launched the inaugural Canada Day Dinner and Pre-Forum Session known as Canada Day at Skoll. It was a great success and featured panelists speaking about a vision for Canada and a plan for how we could get there. One panel included a social entrepreneur working in the not-for-profit (NFP) space focused on positioning Canada as a place of caring, a representative from the Canadian High Commission in London who spoke about inclusion and a social entrepreneur working in the for-profit space offering an online system of linking caregivers centred on people with vulnerabilities.

The second panel included the head of an international marketing firm speaking about the next phase of corporate social responsibility, a venture capitalist using his business skills to create sustainable industries in developing nations and the head of a convergence innovation centre that has chosen to integrate social innovation fully into their innovation agenda. The session concluded with a presentation by Dean Roger Martin of the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management and Skoll Board Member on his definition of social entrepreneurship. Jeff Skoll, one of the founders of eBay and the funder of the Skoll World Forum and the Skoll Foundation, also attended part of the event. This gave the Canadians the opportunity to meet each other and connect throughout the larger Forum, easily recognizable by the Team Canada bracelets.

The Skoll World Forum itself included plenaries and simultaneous workshops. You could chose to focus on a particular stream but could follow the proceedings of other sessions on Twitter or through the summaries that were provided at the end of each day – just one of the ways they made active use of social media. Video highlights of each day are available at www.skollworldforum.com.

The opening plenary included a presentation from a former UN envoy and a development agency that is having great success with girls and issues related to governance – Camfed.

The workshops were educational and inspirational. Some introduced new concepts like how brain imaging can help us with behaviour change. There were sessions on partnering, collaboration, social media, disaster preparedness and recovery, climate change, relationships with government featuring Ilse on a panel with representatives from the UK, the US head on Obama’s Social Innovation Fund and a minister from Singapore.

The closing plenary was completely inspirational and included speakers such as Tim Smit of the Eden Project and Carolyn Casey who, as a person with a disability, has chosen to live her life as fully as possible as well as speakers from India who have effectively sought for access to information from their government.

And, oh yeah, the Icelandic Volcano stopped us from getting home and the challenge was not knowing: would it be a few days, a few weeks, a few months? Everything was up in smoke. But we since we had no choice an externally imposed “volcation” was in order and London is not the worst place in the world to be stranded. Although anxiety was present (would we ever get out of there and back to our families?) we were not without a sense of humour (the Canadians, thanks to Tim Brodhead of the McConnell Foundation, are being called “Ash Cans”) and resilience, (several “meet-ups” and events were organized to take advantage of our unplanned time together). One such event was TEDxVolcano – the travel speaker from CBS is worth listening to and shows the anxiety we were facing.

Follow the links from my fellow strandees for their reflections on the UK experience.